It has taken around five years to reach the point of publishing the names of firms against whom complaints are made. A process begun by the Legal Complaints Service and then handed on, with some relief, to the Legal Ombudsman, it has caused much huffing, puffing and argument. My initial reaction was how underwhelming the information actually was (which, in fairness, Chief Ombudsman Adam Sampson had previously flagged up to me was likely to be the case). What conclusion can anyone draw about the many law firms on the list about which one complaint had reached an ombudsman decision but then no remedy ordered, meaning they had in fact dealt with the matter properly?
The names of 772 law firms which have been the subject of a formal decision by the Legal Ombudsman were published today – but an analysis by this website shows the ombudsman was happy with the law firm’s actions in more than half of the cases made public.
The publication of complaints data will be “imperfect”, the Chief Legal Ombudsman has admitted, but it is better than publishing nothing at all and is emphatically not about naming and shaming lawyers.
Hundreds of law firms have been sent details of the complaints information that the Legal Ombudsman is set to publish about them, Legal Futures has learned. However, it is still not clear when it will actually be published, after the July target was missed.
The changing legal market brings with it “more potential for confusion” among consumers, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly acknowledged last week, making the role of the Legal Ombudsman even more important in future.
The fierce debate over whether the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) should name those lawyers/firms against whom complaints are made has not gone away despite LeO’s decision to press ahead with the policy. And a story on it in yesterday’s Daily Mail gave a preview of what this could all mean in practice. “Shaming the rogue lawyers: list of Britain’s worst solicitors to be published for the first time,” ran the headline.
The Legal Ombudsman is to reduce its budget by 14% – amounting to nearly £3m – over the next year, it has revealed. It is in large part accounted for by a far lower receipt of case fees last year than had been expected.
Raj Tutt of Resolve Consultancy argues that while the decision to ‘name and shame’ lawyers over complaints cannot be changed, there is the opportunity to influence the type of information that is published so that it is fair to firms that genuinely try to deal with unhappy clients.
Law firms and barristers’ chambers may be forced to publish statistics on how efficiently they handle complaints internally – including how many they receive – the Legal Ombudsman has suggested.
From April 2012 the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) will “name and shame” law firms or lawyers against whom a “pattern of complaints” has been made, or whenever naming is judged to be in the public interest, it announced today.